Beck Claims Obama is “Not Christian”

Last night on his Fox television program, Glenn Beck (now fashioning himself a religion expert) tried to launch a theological attack on President Barack Obama’s Christianity, opportunistically pasting together a predictable string of Jeremiah-Wright-Michael-Pfleger-Jim-Wallis clips to suggest that the President’s espoused a rogue brand of Christianity that was not Christianity at all.

Surely Glenn Beck is just trying to whip up the faithful in time for his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

But he’s also going to inflame evangelical Christians who have long accused Mormons of practicing a rogue brand of Christianity that is not Christian at all.

“You’re not a Christian.” Growing up in the 1980s as a young Mormon in Southern California, that’s what I (and my brother and sisters) heard time and time again from evangelical Christians drawn into an anti-cult movement that set its sights on Mormonism. It baffled us. Especially since we learned in church every Sunday that Jesus was the son of God, who suffered and died for our sins.

“You don’t believe in the right Jesus,” they told us at Friday night pizza parties designed for local youth, in letters taped to our school lockers, in messages scrawled in our yearbooks, and when they picketed our church meetings.

Perhaps Beck, a convert, has never experienced how it feels when someone challenges the legitimacy of your religion.

Or if he has, perhaps he doesn’t care.   He’s willing to do whatever it takes to generate turnout for his media events and build his media empire.

“The president apparently has a deeply held belief that his salvation cannot come without a collective salvation,” Beck said Tuesday night. “I don’t know what that is,” he continued, “other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian.  It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.”

Not so fast.

You could convene a room of theologians and have a robust debate on the nature of salvation across traditions, over time, and find lots of evidence of people of faith (including Christians) believing that the concept of salvation is more expansive than Beck’s theological demagoguery makes it out to be. Even Mormons don’t actually believe that we enter heaven alone. In Mormon theology, eternal marriage is crucial to eternal salvation. And many orthodox Mormons I know speak of Christ’s atonement as an infinite event not contracted to the individual but covering collective suffering and loss, including the suffering humans intentionally and unintentionally cause one another.

But you’ll never find such a robust, thoughtful discussion in the world of Glenn Beck.

It’s Beck who is perverting Christianity by opportunistically casting doubt on the sincerity, honesty, and legitimacy of Barack Obama, a man who has as good as grounds as he does (if not better, in the eyes of America) to call himself a Christian.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.